All about corset making and corsetry components

A blog with plenty of information on Corset Making and corset making supplies.

A new "From the Archives" series will be published every Wednesday and Saturday from 25 February 2023, until 26 March 2023, and these posts will contain 'old' information on corset making which will be updated for the revamped Learn Corset Making information portal whereever that may be.

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Category: Corset Making

  1. From the Archives : Binding a Corset

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    The finishing of your corset starts with binding the raw edges for a neat finish.  It is easy to do this with bias binding.  Further embellishments, such as a beaded or feathered fringe, can be incorporated or hand sewn on top of the finishing binding.

    You will need:

    - Your corset
    Bias binding
    - Zipper foot
    Pins, needle and thread
    Corset binding can be self made, using the fabric of the corset, or pre-made in a contrasting fabric or colour.

    This tutorial uses pre-made cotton bias binding.
    binding1 First of all, make sure that all your raw edges are neat, with no dangling threads or rough edges.  You may need to trim some of the edges so that they are smooth.  Make sure that each side of the corset is completely symmetrical and that the bones are pushed up from the edge you are working on, in order to give the sewing machine needle maximum room, and minimum risk of breaking by hitting a bone.
    binding 2 Measure the appropriate length of binding plus 1 inch spare at either end.  

    Unfold one of the folded edges of the binding so that it is flat, fold over the spare inch at the end, align the raw edges of the binding and corset right sides together and pin into place.  When you get to the other end, fold over the spare inch again and pin in place.  Make sure that each edge of binding is also aligned with the edge of the corset.
    You may find it handy to use the zipper foot for this because of the bones
    When stitched all along the edge, fold the binding over the edge to the other side, and press into place, making sure that binding on both sides is even all the way along.
    There are a couple of options for finishing at this stage.  You can either hand sew the binding in place (my preferred method), or you can "stitch in the ditch" for a totally machined look.
    To stitch in the ditch,   pin the unfinished  side of the binding in place from the RIGHT side of the corset -  make sure that the pins catch the binding and hold it in place, on the wrong side.
    Then from the right side of the corset, stitch the binding in place along the seam which you had sewn previously - the ditch. This will ensure a neat finish on the right side - you should not be able to see the stitches....
      ..whilst the binding on the wrong side of the corset should be just caught and held in place showing a  neat line of machined stitches.
    The ends of the binding should be handstiched together to give a lovely neat finish.
    Et Voila!


  2. From the Archives : How to sew boning channels into your corset

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    How to Sew Perfectly Straight Boning Channels into your Corset

    One of the more challenging aspects of corsetry is sewing straight boning channels with boning tape on the reverse of the corset without being able to see the front.  Unfortunately, the best things in life take time.  Fortunately, there are ways to make difficult things, easier!


    Here is a tutorial about how to sew couture boning channels into your corset with perfect results every time.  This is a method used by many professionals for their bespoke work.
    tools-for-sewing-corset-boning-channels copy

    You will need (see notes below for further info):


    Mark where you want your boning channels to be on your cut fabric.  

    Iron your boning tape then center it over the marked line on your pattern, or over the seam it will be sewn over.  

    Pin perpendicular to the edges of the tape as shown.


    Baste your tape as close to the edge as possible on both sides of the tape and as straght as you possibly can.  You could sew through the middle but this may not give such accurate results.

    You want to be able to sew with your machine just inside the basting lines.  This should give you ample space for your bone.  The boning channel must be 2mm wider than your bone.  So if your bone is 7mm, then your channel must be 9mm wide.

    boning3 You must sew very straight lines because your channels will be sewn from the RIGHT SIDE of the corset and these basting lines are guide lines for your sewing machine.

    Now for the tricky bit.  Stitch from the right side of the corset, close your basting stitches as you will get a smoother and neater finish if you top stitch from the right side.

    You can use a normal sewing foot, or a zipper foot if it makes it easier for you to see your stitching lines as you stitch the boning channel on the corset.  Alternatively, some sewing machines come with a clear 'applique foot' which you can also use for sewing straight bone channels.  

    Remove the basting stitches after machining and you will be left with a perfect bone channel.

    Further useful links on what to buy:

    • Boning tape - At Sew Curvy we have plain herringbone twill tape, or tubular boning tape.  Either can be used.
    • Hand sewing needle - The sharper the better - coutil has a habit of blunting needles very quickly.  You cant go wrong with John James needles which is why they are the only needles I stock and recommend.
    • Thread for basting - Silk thread if you are sewing fine fabrics and dont want to mark them.  Otherwise regular basting thread will do the job.
    • Dressmakers chalk - to mark boning channel guide lines on the reverse of your corset.  Magic chalk is good for this because it completely disappears as soon as you iron it! 
    • Pins - I use glass head pins as they dont hurt my fingers and are very sharp
    • Measuring guage - I use the Prym guage for all the things!
  3. From the Archives : A quick overview of how to make a corset - c. 2009

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    Here is a quick guide to making a steel boned corset based on the 9769 Simplicity Corset Pattern.  This is a quick guide - an overview ... I have put links in where you can see italics, to the 'tips and tutorials' pages here where there is more detailed info.

    First of all, this pattern cinches the waist, by approximaely 2.5 inches.  I need a bigger reduction than that, so I start off by tracing the pattern, and reducing the waist size. How? You take the amount you want to reduce - 2 further inches and either take it straigh off the side seam, or divide the amount to be reduced by the three seams at the side and either side of the side. Don't take in the centre front seam or the one next to it,  or the centre back seam or the one next to it - the back edges must remain straight and taking in the next seams along, will distort the corset and/or cause a little back pain.  
    All 12 pieces of the corset are then laid on the fabric, marked up, and cut  The two sides of the corset - right and left, are kept separate, and I work on one side at a time.
    This is a single layer corset with no waist stay, so the boning channels which are not over seams, are sewn on first.  It's easier to do them 'flat' as when the peices are sewn together, there are curves to negotiate!  I do not sew the channels nearest the front or back edges yet.
    After all the flat boning channels are sewn on, I sew all the pieces of each side together.  The reason I don't sew the bone channels over the seams right now, is because I need to be able to adjust the fitting if necessary at a later stage. 

    When working with satin it's best to pin in the seam allowances only.  The curvy corset seams are then ironed over my tailors ham...
    And here's both sides after pressing ..
    Already a corset shape ... now it's time to do the front and back edges...
    As the back edge will have 20 eyelets in each side and this is a single layer corset, I am re-inforcing the back facing with some fusible interfacing to make the fabric extra strong.
    I like to top stitch all my edges very close to the edge, for extra strength and because I think it looks nice.  For corsetry, I mainly use two machine feet - my zipper foot as you can see, and my applique foot, so that I can see where i'm going when sewing bone channels.
    After sewing down the back facing, and making sure the final bone channels are in place I mark my eyelets  using a template and chalk, on the right sides of the back edges of the corset.   After the positions are marked, I use an eyelet punch or an awl, or both, to make holes, and the eyelets are then inserted with a hammer.  
    When the eyelets at the back are done, I insert the busk fastner at the front.  I always cover my busk first as this adds strength and a nicer finish.
    Now I can insert the steel bones into the boning channels I have already sewn and try the corset on to check that it fits.  This one needs a bit of adjustment around the bust area - the front two seams need to be taken in by 1cm each at the top.  The bust area is usually where the adjustments need to be made.  The waist seems fine - certainly the shape is what I am after.  So now, all I have to do is make the adjustments, and then finish off the boning and binding.
    Making a corset takes time and precision, but as long as care is taken over each step, it's not difficult.   It took all afternoon just to do  the bone channels one side of the corset, but I am pleased with the results.
    The pattern instructions say that the seams should be 'flat felled' and then the boning tape sewn on, but unless you have enlarged the seam allowances right back at the beginning, to 2cm each, so that the seam can be used as a channel in itself, this leads to a very messy effect on the right side, so I don't follow the instructions to the letter.  Here is an example - this is the very first corset I ever made from this pattern - I've kept it for reference!
    You can see how wiggly the lines are, and how messy it looks because a seperate bone channel has been sewn over the flatfelled seam.  The easiest thing to do in this case,  is trim one side of the seam right down, then fold the other side over it - like a flat felled seam, but then I baste the boning tape right over it, and sew in one step.  It's therefore more like a welt seam than a flat felled seam now.
    It would ofcourse be much easier to press the seam open and sew the tape over that, but this method would not result in a very strong seam - these seams have to take a lot of pressure!  The last thing I want is for them to burst open while I'm wearing it!!!  That just wouldn't do now would it! ?
    I line the boning channel up over the folded seam, and just over the original seam line so that I can 'stitch in the ditch' from the right side, catching just enough of the tape...
    I know that when I turn the corset around to sew the other side of the channel, if I line the left side of  my presser foot up with the line I have just sewn (in this case, the 'ditch'), the needle is in exactly the right position to sew the exact width I need in order to be able to slide the bone in very snugly.
    Here's what it looks like on the other side - and you can see that i've finished off the outer edge by placing bone tape over the back facing to give a neat finish.
    Once your corset panels are sewn together, busk inserted, eyelets punched in and bone channels sewn,  there are only a few things left to do, but these are the most time consuming!  First, the bones need to go in...
    There are 20 steel bones in the Simplicity 9769 Corset.  These particular bones are made from sprung steel which are then coated in plastic - this gives them the flexibility they require in order to mold your body - note: the bones mold your body, not the other way around!  Spiral steel bones will do just as well and provide a little bit more flexibility but no less strength. 
    I decided to trim a few of the bone channels - this goes on after the bones (so you don't sew through the bone channels!) and before the binding (to get a neat finish).
    Now it's time to bind the corset.  This can be done either with bias binding cut from your original fabric, or a contrasting satin bias binding ready made.

    When sewing the binding, make sure your bones are pushed up, out of the way of your needle, otherwise you will be in the "House of Flying Needles" !!

    I broke FIVE needles doing this part of the corset - my own fault entirely, not paying enough attention because I forgot to move the corset bones up while I was sewing each respective edge.  As you can see  here, i'm using "sharps".  These are special sharp needles, perfect for topstitching all those bone channels and layers.    When the top side of the binding is sewn with the machine, you can handstitch the underside  neatly in place on the reverse.

    Et Voila! A beautiful, Victorian style, steel boned corset!
  4. From the Archives - Corsetry - my journey, 2011

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    From an article written in January 2011 over at my blog, The House of Marmalade entitled Corsetry - my journey

    Over the last few months, I've been doing some very deep research into corset making because as some of you may know, I am writing an e-book on the process for Rainbow Disks and I want to make sure that I document the best way to do things with information taken from a wide source.  Although I have been making and wearing corsets for years, I've developed my own methods of doing so - I am entirely self taught and up until now, I haven't really paid much attention to the ways other people do it.

    When I started in corsetry, it was for 'costume' purposes - think "Moulin Rouge"-  inspired by burlesque, theatre, sparkle and beauty, I set about making fancy corsets for myself to wear at parties and clubs.  I discovered that corsetry as an artistic medium was a very varied subject indeed, full of creative possibilities and I soon became totally hooked.  

    With each new corset I made, inspiration would flood into my mind for the next and then the next and so on.  It seems that for me - and for lots of other people - corsetry provides a very deep well of artistic inspiration and expression but it wasn't until I started getting much deeper into the subject, after first starting up my business and then joining other online communities specifically for corset addicts,  that I began to pay more attention to the history of corsetry and the historical methods of construction specifically in relation to the archetypal shape of the Victorian corset.

    This in turn lead me to frequently ponder the purpose of corsetry both in a historical and a modern context, from the most ancient manifestations which took the form of thick leather belts to suppress the waist, to the most modern lycra 'tubes' which claim to suck you in by as much as 2 sizes!  

    There has been alot of negative press about corsetry, especially since Victorian times and also there is alot of misconception and prejudice about the effects of corsetry on women both physically and mentally and one of the most frequent questions I am asked is "Is it painful to wear a corset?" .  Much has been written about this but my own view is that during the periods when heavily boned, waist reducing corsets were worn routinely,  women were much smaller than we are now, and therefore a 20" waist was nothing out of the ordinary for a young woman - girls wore corsets from a very young age and their skeletons reflected this. In Victorian times there were certain social implications attached to the wearing of corsetry - this is where both the terms "straight laced" and "loose woman" come from however, overall, the corset was a necessary underpinning, perhaps worn under sufferance at times and without the freedom of choice we have now. 

    As to whether corsets are dangerous or uncomfortable - yes, a corset can and will squash your insides, compress your ribcage and cause bruising - if you lace it too tightly!  If you tie a scarf too tightly around your neck you run the risk of suffocation!  As with everything, when a corset  is worn responsibly, in any century, it's purpose is to  shape and smooth the body into whichever fashion silhouette is desirable for that time or purpose,  and to make the wearer feel good.  A well made and properly fitted corset is very comfortable because it supports the torso whilst shaping it.

    Corsets these days are worn by many different people for many different reasons.  I do not generally subscribe to the view that corsets are (or ever were), 'anti-feminist' and 'opressive' to women nor to the opposite veiw that they are  empowering and totally feminine - unless that is what the wearer wants them to be.

    In my opinion, the purpose and effect of corsetry in any time and for any gender, boils down to two things

    1) A corset is and always has been a fashion item.

    2) Using a corset to enhance or shape one's 'assets' is no more dangerous or oppressive, or uncomfortable, than wearing a pair of high heeled shoes.

  5. From the Archives: Interview with SEW Magazine, July 2011

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    When did your interest in vintage textiles begin, and why - Have you ever used vintage fabric to create a garment or a corset? If so, was it any different from using modern fabric?

    Generally vintage textiles are not suitable for corsetry unless they are very heavy and still strong.  Many corsetieres and costume makers, make corsets and clothes from old curtains, drapes and textiles which they get from 'loft sales' in Statey homes and similar.  This is a great source of vintage fabric for that sort of thing not only because it's 'period' but for corsetry because the fabrics are heavier and therefore more suitable.  Personally, I have never ventured into vintage textiles for corsetry, but that is only because I haven't yet found something that inspires me to do so.

    Do you think it's important to wear a corset underneath vintage garments to get the 'right' shape?

    Yes, it is ESSENTIAL to wear good foundations underneath vintage clothes for a number of reasons.  (I have taken 'vintage' to mean 40's / 50's syles as opposed to Victorian/Edwardian!).

    The couturiers of yesteryear, (with the exception perhaps of Chanel who made it her goal to design clothes which did not need firm foundations)  all used corsetry, whether in the form of a separate 'waspie' corset used by Dior for his 'new look' fashions, or in the form of the corsolette dress foundation used by others such as Givenchy whose muse was the beautiful Audrey Hepburn -  as thin and waifish as she was, her gowns all contained corset foundations in order to get the desired sillouhete - the foundation was mostly there to support and enhance the lines of the dress.  

    In modern times, you only have to look at the recent royal wedding dress by Sarah Burton to know that corset technology in couture is still very much in use for when it comes to smoothing, shaping and perfecting the look of the vintage 'style' gown.  A corset - however slim, trim and 'perfect' the figure of the person wearing is,  is essential.  

    In other words, a corset foundation supports the garment it is designed to fit under, shapes the wearer, and by default ensures better posture which enables the dress to be worn to it's best advantage.  This is true of most vintage fashions which aspire to that look.  If you want to achieve the firm shape, cinched waist and smooth look which all work in combination to get the 'right shape',  then a properly made and fitted corset, with steel bones, not plastic,  is required.  

    Is there any sort of corset that is 'better' for beginners – underbust vs overbust, for example, or is it purely a matter of choice?

    The best corset for beginners to make is an underbust.  They are simple to construct, are good practice for a wide range of corsetry techniques, easy to fit, and comfortable to wear - a properly fitting underbust cincher will have a smooth transition between it and the flesh, there will be no bulges which are so common with modern elastic/lycra shapewear.  Underbust cinchers also provide the best 'retro' sillouhete as they allow the wearer to use a bra for top support and this in combination with the cinched waist and consequently rounded hips, lends itself to the lovely hourglass shape which is so essential in 40's/50's fashions.  A perfect example of this can be found in Sophia Loren's film "The Millionairess" from where the picture below is taken

    The Millionairess

  6. Making a Corset Mock Up

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    Corset Mock Ups

    I've written a detailed tutorial on making and fitting a corset mock up on the Tutorials page of this website.

    You can find it HERE.

    How to make a corset mock-up

    This is a supplementary blog post with a few extra pointers following questions i've seen in online groups and in my inbox.

    Use the best type of fabric for corset mock-ups

    cotton calico for corset making

    Fabric should be non-stretch.  Idealy Coutil.  If you can't make it from coutil, then a medium weight non stretch calico will do the job just fine.  This is only a mock-up.  You want to check fit and shape once.  That's all.  Calico is all you need.  Unless you're fitting a client, then only coutil will do.

    Fabrics NOT to use:  Any and all types of linen, upholstry fabrics, stretch fabrics, twill unless it's herringbone twill, drill, denimn (especially upcylced), poplin, ripstop, nylon, scuba, synthetic fabrics such as a thick satin unless it's corsetry cotton backed satin.

    Fabrics I personally wouldn't use because I think it's too thick:  Ticking, canvas

    What is Coutil? And why should you use it?

    corsetry coutil fabric
    Coutil is a special fabric made especially for corset making.  It is very densly woven, but very smooth and light.  Plain cotton herringbone coutil is ideal for making a mockup.  At under £10 a metre it's not that expensive. You'll only need half a metre for most size of toile if you cut carefully.

    Follow the instructions on the corset pattern

    sophia pattern instructions

    All indie corset pattern brands are owned by professional corsetieres.  They all have different methods of pattern making.  Their metrics are all different.  They all include very specific instructions with their patterns, on 

    1. Measuring
    2. Making a toile
    3. How to alter it.

    Read the instructions in your pattern through several times before you start.  Make notes.  Highlight important parts.  Corset patterns are not the same as dress patterns and if you're a first time corset maker, trust me, you don't know how they work on your body.  Follow the instructions, make the toile.  Take each step one at a time.  Remember, all corset makers are different.

    Note:  Don't even think about using a corset pattern from a commercial company if you want to make a real corset.  Just don't.  There are plenty of explanations as to why this is in the blog post linked above and in other articles on this website.

    Eyelets and Facings

    corset toile on the inside

    You need facings on your corset mock up at the centre back.  You don't need metal eyelets.  Remember this is only ever going to be worn once.

    Having said that, your lacing panel does need to be strong enough to withstand pressure for that one time fitting so use your facings.  That's a double layer of non stretch fabric for your centre back panels where you will then cut the holes for your lacing to go through.  If you want to make it a triple layer, then do so.  

    A single layer will rip as soon as you start pulling the lacing in, so double or triple face and you're good to go. No point wasting corset grommets or eyelets, they're not re-usable.

    I personally am not a fan of lacing strips.  They are innacurate, they look untidy and they get in the way.  Just make your back panels, add a 'seam allowance' of 3-6cm, fold it under once (3cm) or twice (6cm), et voila! automatic facing with no extra sewing.


    corset toile with marks

    Personally I'm a fan of sewing a corset toile more or less as I would sew a corset, with a few shortcuts.  This means that I do use boning tape.  And the reason for this is because it's good practice!  Yes, i'm sewing all the time, but you can never know everything, and you can always improve.  So I don't use lacing strips, I don't use busk strips (these seem to be a new thing!), and I don't use lacing tape either.  Getting to know a corset as it goes through all of it's stages of development is in itself, an essential tool in your mental toolkit and will ensure that the final item is really tip top.

    One more tip.  If you don't stitch your bones in the channels at either end, you will get wrinkling as the corset bones force their way out of the channels under the pressure of you wearing the corset mock-up.  I was absolutely horrified to read a corset making book which gave the reason for these wrinkles as a sway back or an asymetry whilst at the same time showing a picture of bones poking out of the top of their channels.  If your bones are not secure in their bone casing, then you will get wrinkles, so stitch them into the corset mock-up at the top and the bottom before you try it on.
































  7. So you wanna be a corset maker?

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    I get so many emails and students who say that they want to be a full time corset maker and whilst I can really really understand why - after all I used to be that person - I also have the benefit of knowing just how hard it is to get to a place where you can actually earn a living from corsetry and corset making.  You need dedication and passion by the bucket load, and financial support - either a day job, or an understanding partner or parent.

    image credit: Roger Askew

    At this point I should make a disclaimer:  There are certain influencers in the corsetry and costume online community who make it sound easy, who tell tales of their remarkable success as an "artist", or who hold others up as a shining beacon of success,  but you should look very closely at what these people are actually selling - how they make a living.  You'll find that they may well be an artist of sorts, but what they are selling is content.  Nothing else.  And the shining beacons of success - what are they selling and how do they really do it?  Never judge a book by it's cover.  Many of these shining beacons of success live or work in rent free or highly subsidised spaces or have other jobs they don't talk about.  

    It IS possible to make a living from corsetry - and a good living at that, and I know several who do so very successfully but they are far too busy making corsets to be boasting about how successfull they are.  So if you want to go down this path, making and selling your corsets and costumes successfully, then read on. 

    Triptych web

    These little waspies had a breif show at Coco-de-Mer
    but honestly working wholesale is a fools game. 

    image credit: Threnody in Velvet, photographer and model

    I had an email last week from someone expressing their wish to make a business who's front product was corsetry but they wanted to know, having been unable to find an 'expert' to help them,  if it was really necessary to learn how to make a corset - thereby removing all 'joy' from the proposed enterprise, and if not, then would it be possible to find a 'seamstress' to do the work - a seamstress who could not only cut the specific designs in this person's head, but make them up too.  At a low cost.

    I asked this person to ask themselves the following questions:

    1.  Why do you want to start a business selling something you know nothing about and have (apparently) no passion for or experience in?
    2. If it is simply to make money, why do you think you cannot find any skilled 'experts' or 'seamstresses' to help you?
    3. If you are not willing to spend the time learning about corsetry, how can you expect to make a viable business with corsets as your main product?

    Lets first start with the definition of what a corset is.  This question came up during a small get together in the Fellows Room at The Oxford Conference of Corsetry in 2015.  At the table were several professional corsetieres including me, Autumn Adamme, the Godmother of Modern Corsetry, and Mr Pearl himself.  Yes THAT Mr Pearl.

    Mr Pearl watches Immodesty Blaize perform at OCOC15

    Mr Pearl watches Immodesty Blaize perform at OCOC15
    Jesus College, Oxford

    Image credit: Julia Bremble

    The conversation was very short because we were all in agreement about what a corset is.  It is a garment designed to modify the body into a particular shape, by application of gradual pressure.  You cannot have a corset without two vital components, that is the busk at the front, and the lacing at the back.  Those two things alone, create the pressure and the support needed to reduce the waist by more than 2 inches and up to 10 (or more in some cases!).  If this isn't the sort of garment you want to make a living by, then you can probably skip to the end.  

    girl being laced into a bridal corset

    Lacing is a vital part of corsetry, it's what enables
    the transition into the hourglass shape

    It's not all about the lacing though.  In order to acheive the desired shape from wearing a corset, the pattern must be good. The more extreme the shape of the corset, the better the pattern must be. There are so many variables that are beyond the scope of this blog post. Suffice to say that it takes an extraordinary amount of skill and study to become a corsetiere who can create amazing shapes.  It's a life's work.  The more you know about corsetry, the more there IS to know.

    A corset pattern being made

    Corset patterns are complicated because you 
    first have to take ease out, then you have to put it back
    in exactly the right places

    image credit:  Julia Bremble

    The next question is, What is the difference between a corset maker and a corsetiere?  I have been quite militant about this for years, and most corsetieres agree, but I was heartened a couple of years ago to hear the very same definition from iconic corset model Bex Paul when she visited my studio during a fitting with our mutual friend and collegue, Immodesty Blaize.  Bex was the muse and model for Velda Lauder, another trail blazer for modern corsetry and the inspiration of many a modern maker.  Bex said that "A corset maker is a person who can make a corset from a pattern.  A corsetiere, is someone who can make the pattern."  Which brings me to my next statement which is:  A corsetiere can be a seamstress, but it is rare to find a seamstress who is also a corsetiere.

    Bex Paul Corset Model

    Model Bex Paul in an antique pattern corset by me.

    image credit: Julia Bremble

    In other words,  a corsetiere is a highly skilled artisan who has spent years learning their craft; No matter how different their work or style is, they all, without exception, have one thing in common and that is that they are all driven by their own obsessional passion for corsetry.  Passion = joy.  If you cannot see joy in this work before you have even started it, then this journey is not for you. 

    To be successful in business, you must first have passion.  You can’t simply go on a beginners corsetry course and then expect to find your fortune immediately.  It doesn’t work like that however, there's an extra ingredient, Talent, which counts toward the final product.  Talent comes in where you can see that amount of experience doesn't define how good you are or can be. There are corsetiere's who have been working for 20 years or more who are not producing work as good as some who are newer to the craft.  

    Most modern corsetieres - infact I would go so far as to say ALL of the corsetieres working today, including Mr Pearl, are self taught.  There was simply no industry to learn from after the early 1980's and if you think you're going to learn corsetry at college, you've got another thing coming.  The last professional corsetiere from 'back in the day' in the UK, was Iris Norris.  Long deceased.  Educational institutions don't have the specialist knowledge required to teach proper corsetry because of all the bad press corsets received after they went out of fashion.  "Corsets kill you", "Corsets squeeze your organs" etc., etc., etc.,  Costume corsetry is corsetry which is designed to LOOK authentic.  It doesn't have to work.  I've had countless frustrated contour, costume and fashion students through my doors telling me that their teachers just don't 'get it'.

    The real nitty gritty of making corsets for a living, is the business side of things.  Being a business person is a very tough job and it isn't for everyone.  There are moments of intense joy and satisfaction, but those moments come at a price, and that price is a sometimes unbearable amount of strain caused by blood, sweat, and many many tears of frustration and angst! I remember the nights and nights of anguish where after my day job, and after all the household chores were done and dusted, and my young son was in bed, I would pore over my patterns long into the night, my already tired brain aching with confusion, tears coming from frustration,  and the fear that I would never ever be able to make a corset pattern, let alone understand how the damn things work!!  But I kept at it.  And I practiced and practiced and practiced.  Then I started Sew Curvy armed with a tiny amount of knowledge that I wanted to pass on to others who were finding it hard to find help - because there was so little in those days.  Then I wrote a book which went a long way towards my understanding of corsetry, but still I did not call myself a corsetiere.  It wasn't until I started teaching corsetry that I began to understand it so fully.  I learned more than I taught and slowly I found it all slotting into place.

    stage show with corsets

    From zero to stage with icons in little over 10 years.

    images from Instagram

    Great!  I got there in the end.  I can whip up a fantasticly complex corset pattern in less than half an hour these days and I have a very select list of 'VIP' clients.   But knowing how to do something, and doing it well, is not the same as succeding in business with that thing.  Yes, the joy can be removed but it isn't the corset making that causes the lack of joy.  It's the marketing, the constant hustling, the social media, the disappointments of not making the sale, the balancing of the books, the admin, the sample making, the model wrangling, the photographer finding, the financial outlay - all the grinding daily tasks and that's not even counting the fact that once you've got so far that your work is  'out there', people start copying your designs and that in itself leads to a whole other level of joyless hell :/

    So here is my comprehensive check list for prospective professional corset makers and corsetieres

    1) Know your subject.  Unless you have a bottomless Kardashian style fountain of money, nobody is going to do this for you.  Invest in learning - you'll need time and patience - it's possible to teach yourself but it takes dedication, passion, and obsession with details.  If you can go on a course to start you off, do so.  See my blog post about picking the right corsetry course HERE.  Remember, you can't be a Formula One driver without first learning how to drive.

    2) Professional corset making is what it says on the tin - it should look like it's been made in a factory!  Ridiculous comparison I know, but it's what most people measure a professional standard by.  Your corset must look simple and flawless in design even if it's the most complex thing you've ever made in your life.

    3) Get good at marketing and branding.  The most successful corsetieres aren't necessarily the best or most talented corset makers, but they are the best at social media and marketing their brand.  They also have a healthy respect for their worth and their products' worth.  ie: They charge properly.  Be prepared to wear all the hats you can think of;  Pattern cutter, Seamstress, Stylist, Creative Director, Professional Liaison officer (organising photoshoots), Venue Scout, Talent Scout, Social Media Expert, Branding Expert, Sales and Marketing Manager, Customer Services Manager, etc., etc., etc.,

    4) Don't under sell yourself, even if you think your work isn't quite as good as the next corsetiere.  It helps nobody - least of all yourself - if you sell your goods for cheap outside of your friends circle.  What this leads to is stagnation.  If you don't make enough from each sale, you can't afford better fabrics and materials or the time to make more samples and practice to get yourself better.  Not only that, you make it harder for other makers who are trying to make a living.  If you don't charge enough for your work, the work becomes a chore.  If you don't value your own work, nobody else will.  And you'll be undercutting other indepentant businesses for no reason other than exploiting yourself!

    5) Don't oversell yourself either.  Designer prices need a designer reputation to go with them. Look at your competition, study what they are doing.  Don't copy, but take notes.  If they are busy, there's a reason.  They're doing something right.  Pricing is part of that.

    6) Don't feel ashamed about having a 'day job' at least to begin with. Infact keep your job until you start losing money by being employed by someone else!  There's nothing more crushing to creativity than worrying about how you're going to pay the bills with only one etsy sale a month.

    7) Invest in yourself and your business.  If there are professionals selling courses, or information, select which would be best for your business, and invest - there's lots of information out there mostly on Patreon these days.  Invest in good materials, invest in quality trims, invest in fancy lace.  Don't see these expenses as frivoloties.  You are investing in your now and future business. You are building a brand.

    8) Make your shape and style - this is your brand and your USP.  Its what will draw your customers to you. The best corsetieres' work is identifyable immediately without a caption.  That's what you're aiming for.

    9) Never.  But NEVER, ask a corsetiere to be your low paid seamstress so that you can build a brand on their back.  It's just not going to happen and it's extremely insulting.

    10) Never copy another designer.  Be inspired yes.  But take that inspiration, and make your own version.  Community is important in any industry and disresepecting your collegues is a recipie for disaster.

    11) Finally ask yourself the question:  What do you actually want from running your own corsetry business?  It better not be money!  I've noticed, especially in the digital age that as soon as anybody finds enjoyment in a hobby or is good at something, their friends, family, collegues all say the same thing "You should make a business doing that" ... Honestly WHY?  Running a business can be a joyful wonderful thing but it isn't for everyone.  It can give you the highest most exhilerating highs but also the stressiest most debilitating of lows too ... Do you want to ruin your beloved hobby by monetising it?  Or would you rather do a job where you dont have to manifest money from literally nothing but your own wits and skill, have paid leave and sick time, and make your hobby a release from the day job ?  Sometimes I myself wonder and i've been at it for a long time now.  Having said that, those thoughts only pass fleetingly through my mind once in a while. Despite the difficulties I can honestly say that I was made to be self employed.  It's been the most rewarding and successful part of my life and I wouldn't go back for anything.

    Sew Curvy HQ corsetry and corset making supplies

    Sew Curvy HQ!

  8. Fan Lacing

    Posted on

    Customers often ask for 'fan lacing sliders' which are not that common these days and I am unable to find a factory in Europe that makes them now.  To source them in China would require me to find a warehouse here to store them in, such are min. qty amounts from factories in China!  I even spoke about 'opening a mould' with a fellow British indie lingerie brand but we decided that even between us, the expense was prohibitave. 

    fan laced corset ladies
    Ladies wot Lace

    So I thought we could talk about fan lacing - how it came about, how to do it, different types, and how the same (or better imo) effect can be acheived without those pesky metal slides.

    Although the Victorians dabbled in several models of front fastening corsets, it wasn't until 1908 when fan lacing became popular and took off as a viable alternative to the traditional back lacing corset.  In that year,  Samuel Higby Camp of Jackson, Michigan, invented a new system of fan lacing using a special metal buckle which was mounted with loops and was patented in the US in June 1921.

    camp fan lacing with metal slides Camp fan lacing
    Metal fan lacing slides - difficult to obtain in the 21st century

    Camp System diagrams


    Camp's system with the metal buckle uses one single corset lace which is passed through the looped metal tab several times.  The angle of pull means that the pulley effect of the lacing is effective over a wide range and this means that tightening the corset from the front is extremely easy. The other side of the fan lacing slide attaches to a belt which fastens at the front or side of the corset using special sliding buckles which are low profile and therefore sit smoothly underneath clothing.  These are still used today in waistcoats.

    fan lacing systems

    Front fastening corsets
    The Camp fan lacing system on the left is bulkier but uses only one lace passed through the special metal slider.  The Jenyns fan lacing system on the right is flatter but uses several laces all stitched to the controlling belt.

    Camp patented his unique slider but that didn't stop other manufacturers copying the idea, the most successful of which was an Australian firm called Jenyns who in order to circumvent the patent, simply stitched the apex of the 'fan' onto a strap.  The main difference in this system is that sevaral individual laces are required to form an effective closure.  This makes for a prettier effect but it means the system is not quite so effective.  Nevertheless, this was also a popular and successful design and seasoned wearers of both models at the time, report the difference as completely negligible.  Jenyns licenced the UK factory Symingtons to make this type of corset for the European market, and here is one such example I handled and photographed myself in the Symingtons resource centre.

    Jenyns fan lacing symington Jenyns fan lacing with buckle
    1911 Jenyns corset in white coutil.  Low waisted and deep over the hips featuring elastic gussets at the bottom front.  This was one of the first styles made under the Symington franchise.
    photo © Julia Bremble
    Front straps.  The corset has a long graduated busk and spiral supports and four wide fancy adjustable suspenders.
    photo © Julia Bremble
    Below is a diagram from a blog post by American Duchess which clearly demonstrates how the laces are attached to the 'strap' system of fan lacing.  This system was first seen in Victorian times, but made popular much later in the early 20th century.  The blog post describes how to convert a traditionaly laced corset into a fan laced corset using a corset made from a Red Threaded pattern.  Please go and read it!
    American duchess fan lacing

    I can feel a tutorial coming on myself as I'd like to explore this system more in practice and ofcourse the creative options are limitless - I mean, multicoloured lacing for one! 

    Here's some modern interpretations of fan lacing.


    fan lacing asphysxia fan lacing dark garden fan lacing lovesick fan lacing pure one fan lacing v couture
    Asphixia Couture Dark Garden Lovesick Apparel Pure One V-Couture

    Hopefully that's got your creative juices flowing!  Here are a few more resources for you to have a further read.


    Buy belt sliders for making Jenyns style fan lacing straps

    Buy cotton corset laces for fan lacing

    Fan lacing tutorial by Serinde Corsets on Live Journal

    More on the Symingtons 1911 Fan lacing corset by Curve Couture

    Vintage Fan lacing girdle from the blog of Period Corsets

    Spirella blog - Fan lacing corsets

    American Duchess blog - how to convert a regular corset to a fan lacing corset 1830's

    Spirella blog - Jenyns corsets



  9. Classy Birds

    Posted on

    Every so often my friend Izabela of Prior Attire comes to visit.  We enjoy sewing together as we share similar interests that are completely non-conflicting! ie: we both love corsets, but she is interested in authentic period corsetry and I am interested in very modern corsetry.  The shape unites us!  So when she comes to visit, she brings stock items to make for her shop and I take the time to experiment.  

    Victoria Corset 2

    The Victoria corset made from pale nude broche with black spots

    With the arrival of several new fabrics in the shop I decided to formulate a new kit using my Sew Curvy Victoria pattern (#sewcurvyvictoria) and the new spot broche in nude/black which I have been lusting after for literally years!

    Izabela also fell in love with said fabric, and decided to make some stock Edwardian corsets for her shop, using my new Sew Curvy Edwardian pattern - this is a pattern that I made for classes a couple of years ago, but have yet to write the instructions.  I will be doing so soon so that we can add it to our catalogue of British made corset patterns.  Here's her finished Edwardian corset.

    Sew Curvy Edwardian corset

    The Sew Curvy Edwardian pattern will be in the shop
    just as soon as I write the instructions!

    This new spot broche coutil is a lovely stiff fabric, which is also very smooth and fine.  It's  therefore perfect for sturdy single layer corsetry, not least because in addition to it being very strong, it also hides a multitude of 'sins' - if you're a beginner, or worry about the odd squint stitch - this fabric is for you!

    Edwardian corset pattern prior attire VICTORIA corset

    Izabela wearing the
    Sew Curvy Edwardian Corset

        Izabela wearing the 
    Sew Curvy Victoria Corset

    These are some of the lace trims we have in stock, which go beautifully with this lovely corsetry fabric.  

    nude broch with black spots and guipure trims Nude spot broche with lace trims
    So elegant!  

    For the new corset kit, I decided to include the 'Little Crowns' guipure trim, which I offset with black flossing along the bottom edge.  The inside is boned out with tubular boning tape (don't say I don't make things easy for you), with a grosgrain ribbon as a waist stay. 

    inside of Victoria corset

    The bow is a little added extra which I think finishes the corset off perfectly!

    bow on a corset

    For more insights on our day of corset making exploits, do pop over to the Sew Curvy Instagram account and look at the story highlight called "sewing day" - there you can see the story of our corset making day with useful hints and tips on corsetry including the best colour of thread to use for this coutil, why you need a taperd awl, which busk is Edwardian, the best use for a zip tie, how to insert a busk, and in progress shots of both corsets being made and worn!  

    Go to @sewcurvysupplies on Instagram for up to them moment, as they happen, updates!

    Classy bird kit

    New kits coming soon - watch this space!

  10. Getting a Discount at Sew Curvy

    Posted on

    Lots of people ask me for 'wholesale', 'business' or 'trade' discounts.  So I thought i'd write a blog post about how you already get discount at Sew Curvy and why it's impossible for me to give any more.

    steel boning for corsetry

    Firstly, I am a tiny, one woman business in a very niche market.  So niche infact, that in the UK I have only one competitor.  Compare that to the leagues and leagues of quilting supply shops you see on the internet and in magazines, and size down my market share proportionally. 

    Corset making is a specialist sewing activity for the brave and adventurous home sewer, the 'professional hobbyist' and the professional costumer, fashion designer, corsetiere or lingerie designer. 

    When I started Sew Curvy it was because I wanted to help other corset makers to get quality supplies at a good price and I wanted to help beginners to learn corsetry easily - when I started it was almost impossible to find any information at all, the whole industry was top secret and jealosly guarded.  If I could give my goods away for free, I really would. People who know me can testify to my generosity.

    However, I am in business, I am trying to make a living, because after 25 years of 'paid employment' where I was bullied, held back and harrassed, I ended up with chronic fatigue whereby I was more or less 'vegetablaised' for a year - anybody who has experienced CFS will understand how it is to feel unable to function properly, let alone hold down a job, let alone hold a thought for more than a few seconds, and although after a year I was ready to tiptoe into another job, it took me a good 5 or 6 years to completely recover, to feel like I had the energy levels that I had before, where I could stay awake for more than 8 hours and not feel exhausted by tea time every day. 

    Running my own business was the only way out of that cycle.  I remember visiting a friend and mentor at a very low time and sobbing on her sofa "surely I can be of use to someone?" ... Well since I started Sew Curvy. that has happened.  This is definately my place in life.

    support small business

    But corsetry supplies aren't cheap.  The best steel comes from Europe and it has to be imported.  The best coutil also comes from Europe.  Cotton and steel are heavy and expensive, the coutil industry is small.  Everything we have in the UK must be imported from somewhere - haberdashery comes from Germany too - only a very few of our products at Sew Curvy are British made - I think ribbons and laces are about the sum of it!  Up until now, it's been easy to import goods from Europe - that might all change post Brexit, we don't know.  If tarrifs are imposed on cotton and steel from Europe, it will not be good news for Sew Curvy or for independant corsetieres in the UK.

    Sew Curvy cottage

    All retail product markups are there for a reason.  Before I get anything at all from the business there are a significant number of overheads to pay in addition to the cost of the goods that I sell Here's a list:

    • 20% VAT on everything I buy - (i'm on a complex rate - see end note as this effects EU businesses claiming VAT discounts)*
    • 20% VAT on my turnover - not my earnings.  My turnover.  That's 20% of any order including postage that goes straight to the government on a quarterly basis.
    • Two part time employees because it is impossible for me alone to do everything that is needed to run a successful business that is worth something.  While my assistants pack orders, keep stock records and do the routine admin, I am free to develop the business, do the marketing, teach corsetry and work with my own private clients as well as organise and sponsor international events like The Oxford Conference of Corsetry
    • Studio rent - not inconsiderable - to hold enough stock, you need enough space.
    • Heat, light, power in the studio, from early in the morning to early in the evening, often I am here till nearly 7pm.  The studio being a Victorian cottage is difficult to heat!
    • Mail order sundries - envelopes, tape, packaging materials, labels, marketing materials, boxes, etc.,
    • Services such as waste disposal (recycling), internet etc.,
    • Technology - a computer, a phone, a decent camera for taking product pictures, a printer, software for editing images etc., 
    • Postage - plus petrol to get to the post office, paper, pens, toilet paper, tea/coffee ... all the things that anybody would expect to find in their workplace to make it a happy and pleasant environment. 

    When all those business expenses are accounted for, the rest counts as "profit" which you think might pay for the ridiculous number of hours I put in both here at the studio and at home - that's at least 55+ hours a week,  no paid holiday and no paid sick leave. But even these 'profits' have a cost.  There is 20% income tax, plus 12% NI contributions and that is before I've ploughed at least half of the 'profits' back into the business so that I can keep expanding and developing the product range. 

    After all those things are paid,  I draw what could laughingly be called a  'wage' myself.  You can imagine, there isn't much left, and any more discounts, will come out of that.

    Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 17.36.50

    So now imagine if your boss came to you at the end of your hard working week and said "can you work tomorrow for free/for a discount" when you already did several hours of unpaid overtime... what would you say? 

    Sew Curvy supplies are very competitively priced and in most cases are the least expensive on the market - do a price comparison to see - I am continually monitoring prices and postage rates to make sure I offer the best service possible.  Some of our supplies are vastly UNDER priced due to other businesses charging less than they should for the same supplies and thereby undercutting their competition.  This applies particularly to fabric - one of my biggest overheads.

    Positively though, there are ways to get discount at Sew Curvy AND support my business.  Here they are:

    1) Spend over £100 and get free UK postage - this amounts to around 10% discount and it's usually sent by courier so you get fast, next day delivery into the bargain.

    2) Buy 'whole rolls of corsetry supplies' - these are automatically already discounted by up to 10%.  If you buy enough of them, you'll also get the free postage if you're in the UK - that's a whopping 20% discount.

    3) Buy a corset kit - these contain all the materials required to make a corset and are already collectively discounted by up to 15% - some pro corset makers will buy a kit per client and save this way.

    4) Teach a class - if you buy your class supplies from Sew Curvy, your students will get a 5% off voucher each.

    What about European discounts and the rest of the world?  Well there are two things.  Thanks to the value of our sterling - foreign exchange rates are good at the moment.  But again, because Sew Curvy is a micro business, we have bank rates to pay and when money comes in from abroad, there are also exchange rate fees.  I therefore can't discount even more on top of those as it would mean that you are literally getting free products.  I wish it wasn't the case.

    To professionals out there wanting trade discounts.  Corsetry is an expensive business.  The cost of your supplies should be covered by the price of your product.  It's the same for me.  And as a corsetiere myself, I try to be fair by never undercutting my collegues and friends by using trade prices for that side of my business (infact, I have two companies because of this, Sew Curvy Retail is the supply shop, Sew Curvy Limited is the couture and teaching side - i'm an expert in inter-company invoicing! 

    If people will not pay a reasonable price for your wares, then they simply are not your customers - I learned that from the Godmother of modern corsetry, Autumn Adamme herself, and it's been a very valuable piece of advice.  If you're not making money from corset making, then what is the point?  It's not your suppliers' responsiblity to subsidise your business. Only work for free for those who are dear to you.  Otherwise it simply isn't worth doing.

    Autumn Adamme giving advice to corset makers

    Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden in San Fransisco giving invaluable and inspirational business advice to corset makers at The Oxford Conference of Corsetry in 2015

    I hope this little article goes some way to explaining why micro businesses like Sew Curvy, with only one or three passionate persons behind the wheel, cannot operate like corporate giants - we don't have the buying power of Amazon to get (often rapacious) discounts off the goods we sell, and we don't have the resources to offer any more discount than the value we already provide.  But we do love serving our lovely customers and we do feel enormous gratitude for your business.

    Sew Curvy studio

     * endnote:  Because my turnover is less than £150k per year, I'm on a 'flat rate' VAT system which means that I pay the government less VAT per quarter, but i also cannot claim VAT on my purchases.  The surplus 'discount' that I don't pay, goes back into my profits, so that I pay income tax/NI on that portion ... it's like the government giving with one hand and taking away with the other -  it kind of works out marginally better - and certainly easier - but it means that I can't discount VAT for EU businesses because that isn't included in the scheme.